Surprising and Not Surprising: The CHEEZ-It 355 at The Glen

With no need for the Goodyear wet weather radials brought to the track just in case, here is what was surprising and not surprising in the 30th annual CHEEZ-It 355 at the Watkins Glen International road course.

Surprising:  Race winner Joey Logano held a make-up session at The Glen, first making up for losing the race the previous week on fuel mileage and second, making up for the four previous races where Team Penske lost out to a member of the Joe Gibbs Racing team.

“It makes up for last week, the driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford said. “We lost the race last week the same way, so it makes up for it to get it this week.”

“Team Penske, the last four races in a row, one of our cars finished second,” Logano continued. “Brad (Keselowski, Penske teammate) finished second a couple of times and so did we, so it feels good to break through and not be the bridesmaid anymore and actually get the checkered flag and have some fun.”

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Logano also made up for lost time for Team Penske, who won their first ever at Watkins Glen.

“It means an awful lot to Team Penske,” Walt Czarnecki, Vice Chairman of Team Penske said. “This is Team Penske’s first Cup win at The Glen.  I believe this is our winningest track in the whole history of our company, going back to the Trans-Am and the Can-Am and Nationwide and XFINITY Series – a great run yesterday – so this is particularly meaningful for us to win here today in this race.”

Not Surprising:  Given the challenges to the cars on road courses, it was not surprising that at least a few drivers uttered those dreaded two words, “Something broke.”

Jeff Gordon, who had high hopes for a chance to make the Chase with a win at The Glen, had brake issues instead and went down four laps trying to fix it. Gordon finished 41st and slid from tenth to twelfth in the point standings.

“We had a brake line issue,” the driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet said. “It’s not like I hit anything or something came into it and broke it that we can see.  Something went bad with the line and it started leaking fluid and we started losing brakes.”

“So we had to come in.  Unfortunately, it took us four laps to get that changed.  Just so hard to make up laps when you get that many down, especially at a track like this.”

Tony Stewart, who qualified in the third position, also had a ‘something broke’ moment as a likely broken seal let all the rear end grease out of the axle, ending his day in the 43rd and final finishing spot.

“When I came off of (Turn) 1 I could feel it like it was kind of pulling heavy and going up through the esses you could hear it let go right at the end of the esses,” Smoke said. “We are going to leave the rear end together and get it back to Charlotte (NC) and find out exactly what happened.”

Surprising:  In a race that this driver had circled on his calendar, especially as the defending race winner, AJ Allmendinger’s day went to one that he wanted to ‘X’ out of his memory.  ‘Dinger suffered a power loss that left his No. 47 Kroger/Bush’s Beans Chevrolet dead on the track to finish a disappointing 24th.

“When the battery died that obviously put us way behind,” Allmendinger said. “I thought the changes we made helped the car a little bit, but I got my lap back and drove as hard as I could to get as much as I could.”

“I thought maybe we could get back to the top 10. Just 10 laps short.”

Not Surprising:  Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick, must have had the Salt N Pepa song ‘Push It’ echoing in his head. And as he said, he ‘pushed it to nothing’ with his driver, who ran out of gas on the last lap of the race.

Harvick was, however, able to coast to a third place finish, his eighth top-10 finish in 15 races at Watkins Glen International.

“I thought I’d done a pretty good job of saving fuel under the caution,” Harvick said. “I was just running as fast as I needed to, to protect the lead.”

“All in all, our Budweiser/Jimmy John’s team did a great job today and we were in position to have a win; two corners away.”

Surprising:  Only a six-time champ could miss the inner loop and have to sit until the field passed him, have contact with another driver, as well as taking a spin on the track, and still finish top-10.

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, did just that, starting ninth and finishing the race in the tenth position in spite of all those challenges.

Not Surprising:  Kyle Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens was obviously scared straight, at least according to his driver. Busch finished second in his No. 18 M&Ms Crispy Toyota, his ninth top-10 finish in 11 races at Watkins Glen International.

“I could’ve went up there, I could’ve raced the 22 (Joey Logano), I could’ve passed him,” Busch said. “I felt like I was better than he was, but my crew chief called in scared on the fuel situation from last week and I don’t blame him.”

“We definitely didn’t want to run out again. We wanted to make sure we could be there at the end.”

This was Busch’s sixth top-10 finish in 2015 and he is now 30th in the points and eligible for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Surprising:  It was a big ‘niner’ kind of day for Sam Hornish, who finished ninth in his No. 9 Medallion Bank Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports.

“Our car was good,” Hornish said. “We were good in areas that some other cars weren’t and that helped us pass people when we could get to them.”

“I felt like our car was definitely better than where we finished there, but you take what you can get on the days you have it and I’m just proud of everybody that works on this Medallion Bank Ford Fusion and the guys at RPM.”

“A ninth is probably disappointing for them compared to what they’ve had the last few times coming up here, but the package is a little bit different.  I wish we could have had a little more practice time, but anytime you come home in the top-10 you can’t be too disappointed about it.”

Not Surprising:  Denny Hamlin was definitely in the ‘hood’ at The Glen yet again. His hood flew up on top of the roof of his car, just like it had done at practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota had to have the hood replaced, relegating him to a 27th place finish.

Surprising:  Matt Kenseth surprised himself, and no doubt everyone else, by scoring his best career finish at Watkins Glen, bringing his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the fourth position.

“We ran pretty good,” Kenseth said in his typical understated fashion. “It’s always fun to feel like you overachieved I guess and we probably did that today. I’m sort of surprised we made it to the end but I’m really thankful we did.”

Not Surprising: While Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon had his own problems, there were significant Chase implications for teammate Kasey Kahne, who was sidelined on Lap 49 due to multi-car accident, finishing 42nd.

Kahne also lost two spots in the point standings, from 15th to 17th position.

“Yeah, at this rate we’re going to need to win,” Kahne said. “That’s the only way we’ll go into the Chase.”

“So hopefully we can run good at Michigan and maybe get a win there. We’ve won there before and also won there at Bristol before; so, maybe one of those tracks.  Darlington and Richmond; there are some tracks that we could run really well at.”

The next Sprint Cup Series race on the circuit will be August 16 at Michigan International Speedway.

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